In his dining room at Linderhof Palace, King Ludwig II did not want servants bothering him. Maybe he wanted to avoid the inefficiencies of dining at his childhood home, Hohenschwangau Castle, a few miles away from Linderhof. In Hohenschwangau, the kitchen was in a separate building. When the family sat down to eat, someone had to stand next to the window. This servant would wave at another servant stationed at the kitchen window when it was time to bring in the next course. Then the food had to be carried up a couple of flights of stairs in insulated containers.
When he built his own personal dream home at Linderhof, Ludwig did away with all that nonsense. He designed a dining table that disappeared through the floor into the kitchen directly below. I had seen this table, but I couldn’t imagine how it actually worked until I watched Luchino Visconti’s film Ludwig, made in 1972. There is a scene where Ludwig leans back from finishing one course, and a couple of servants down below crank the table down to restock it. Sliding panels automatically fill in the space, relieving my worry that poor Ludwig would accidentally fall into his kitchen. It’s a sad scene. The liveried servants down below are making coarse jokes about their employer and guzzling his leftover wine.
No doubt it was always hard to find good help. Ludwig was probably not the most considerate employer, either. Today, it is possible to peer in through the ground-level kitchen window and see the mechanism that lifts and lowers the table.
The dining room is French Rococo, like the rest of the very small palace. That translates into a lot of carved gilded woodwork, framed mirrors and exquisite porcelain.
With tourists traipsing through the place, the windows are covered with heavy shades to protect the interior. But Ludwig would have looked out at a very pretty French-styled garden complete with fleur-de-lis flower beds.
Ludwig’s disappearing table is not large. Today, there is only one throne-like chair. Ludwig almost always ate all alone. In fact, there were no guest quarters in the small palace because there were no guests. But according to the guides, Ludwig often had the table set for at least one other person, sometimes two or three. He liked to chat with some of his imaginary friends, whose portraits appear in the room: Marie Antoinette, Madame de Pompadour, and Louis IV.
When the Bavarian government finally got fed up with Ludwig’s spending and failure to sit in boring Cabinet meetings, much was made of his unusual habits. Was having imaginary friends evidence of insanity? Personally, I don’t think so. I think Ludwig was a man who wanted to create the illusion of being with his favorite people in a perfect world. For about 22 years of his life, from 1864 to 1886, he had the means to do just that.
Join me next time for more insight into some of the quirky byways in the art and history of Europe!